Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi stood in for mayor Larry O’Brien at an annual town hall during Pride Week Aug 19.
The event, hosted at City Hall, is usually the mayor’s chance to take the pulse of Ottawa’s gay community. Naqvi, for his part, appears happy to pick up the gauntlet.
“I hope this is an annual event, an exercise to have a dialogue,” he says. “We’ve made a lot of strides but it’s the nuances now that matters, the subtle issues within equality.”
Nigel Flear of Egale Canada greeted the audience and identified three provincial topics for debate: healthcare, education and seniors.
Naqvi led with Liberal investments in healthcare infrastructure. He adds that there is a high need for family practitioners and to prioritize transition of international healthcare providers into the Canadian system.
He adds that the relisting of SRS gender confirmation surgery this past June is something we’ve all wanted.
“I wish they would have done it five years ago when elected but it happened and it’s extremely important.”
He also acknowledges the discrimination gay men face at blood donor drives, where they’re forbidden from ever donating blood after even one gay sexual encounter.
But Naqvi says there has been enhanced spending on HIV-AIDS programs, with money going to the AIDS Bureau and Pink Triangle Services.
Longtime trans activist Joanne Law says that gender identity policy on Ontario documents needs to be amended.
Naqvi says that “we still have issues with getting proper accents on OHIP cards and drivers licences and it’s important that vital statistics properly reflect persons.”
Others called for the inclusion of gender identity in the province’s human rights legislation.
Meanwhile speakers also point to the comparatively high risk for homelessness among both gay abd trans youth.
Naqvi adds that the province will spend $9.2 million addressing homelessness in Ottawa through 14 service providers. Out of that, $5.5 million will go to youth addiction in Ottawa to provide youth with residential treatment, a detox centre and counselling.
He says he advocates supportive housing to help transition youth into and says there is a need for outreach workers to work within schools with teachers and principals to help gay and trans before they run into those issues.
Schools also proved to be a hot-button issue.
Participants say they are disappointed by the lack of gay sex ed in school curriculum and by the lack of queer services in schools. Many felt that you had to go above the school boards and trustees to get any sort of progress made and that the policy directives needed to explicitly deal with issues around homophobia.
And further, some pushed Naqvi and the Liberals to end funding for the Catholic school system.
Despite serious topics, the town hall meeting ended on an optimistic note when Naqvi asked about the development of a rainbow village in Ottawa and received overwhelming support from everyone in the room.